During Q & A at the Arlington Town Meeting on Health Care with Representative Ed Markey (10/12/09), one brave woman suggested to the Congressman that if we would end US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the federal government would have more than enough money to provide comprehensive health insurance for every American citizen. Mr. Markey responded that President Obama’s health care plan isn’t going to require any new spending. It is "deficit neutral," meaning it will pay for itself! So, he said, there is no need to cut the military budget or any other funding.
How will the Obama health insurance overhaul pay for itself? So far, there has been "talk" about taxes on workers who receive insurance through their employers, or taxes on the employers themselves. (I can make a sure bet which one will be targeted if taxes are to offset costs of the President’s makeover plan.) The only source certain for covering costs - upon which both Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate, and the President agree - is a $500 billion cut in funding to Medicare Advantage plans.
Another intrepid Town Meeting attendee raised that issue: "The President says that single-payer is not on the table. He and Congress say that what is on the table is $500 billion in cuts to funding Medicare Advantage - the plan that covers all the necessary services to seniors that Medicare (A&B) does not cover, like annual physical exams, ear and eye care, glasses, hearing aids, foot care, drugs, etc. What will you do, Representative Markey, to prevent these cuts in our Medicare Advantage benefits? And, why target the Medicare Advantage plan 1 in 4 low-income seniors depend upon for comprehensive and affordable health insurance rather than targeting waste and fraud in other plans in the private sector?"
Mr. Markey replied that Medicare Advantage charges 14% more for services than does Medicare (A &B). Savings will come from eliminating this cost difference.
Since Medicare (A&B) does not begin to cover basic health care needs, and also requires the patient to pay deductibles as well as 20% to 50% of the physicians’ charges, this clearly did not make sense. The questioner said as much: “Congressman, this is not a question of ‘apples and oranges,’ this is like trying to compare bananas to steak. If you have to pay only 14% more for 95% more services covered through Medicare Advantage, that seems like quite a bargain to me!”
The reality is that $500 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage providers will result in increased premiums, as well as cuts in services and increased costs to Medicare Advantage patients. Many low-income seniors will be forced to revert to the Original Medicare (A&B) and its pathetically limited coverage. (In order to cover their medical needs, Massachusetts residents with only Medicare A&B rely on "free care" at clinics and hospitals dependent upon dwindling state and federal funding.) Oh yes, and we will also need to pay for a separate, private drug insurance plan (with the guaranteed high drug prices which were agreed by the Obama administration and Big Pharma months ago).
Seniors need to speak out! Politicians, "progressives," and physicians who support cuts to Medicare Advantage under the guise of "Medicare For All" don’t have any personal experience with what it means to have Medicare or Medicare Advantage as the only affordable choices for covering our medical needs. And they certainly never talk publicly about the real differences between what the two programs cover and what they pay out to medical professionals. Seniors do know the difference. We need to make our voices heard!
Mary Lynn Cramer, MA, MSW, LICSW, Senior Citizen